Holiday traditions grow up


In my family, there are a few holiday traditions that we do all the time. The Christmas Book Fairy, an invention of my mom’s, is one of the best. One present, invariably a book, is left in the children’s bedrooms. They get to open that right away, and it keeps excited little ones from bothering their parents too early. Naturally this tradition has gone on to the next generation, but a corollary to the rule was that you actually had to read the book. So, one year, home from grad school for the holiday, I found at the bottom of my bed, Tom Clancy’s tome Red Storm Rising, which is several hundred pages long. Oh, ha ha, Mom, very funny. Of course I started reading it, and of course I got completely sucked in to the point where I didn’t want to go join the family for presents.

A second tradition, both sentimental and valuable for parental sleeping-in time, is the homemade caramel rolls. Making these rolls is a family activity that my daughters have come to anticipate almost as much as eating them. The recipe is from the old Betty Crocker cookbook, and it lets you make them the day before and refrigerate overnight. Then, all you need to do is pre-heat the oven and bake. The rule, of course, is that no kids are allowed out of their rooms (except for the bathroom) until they can smell the sticky-buns. I expect that this morning in Indiana and in Vermont, my nieces and nephew are eagerly reading their book-fairy book and carefully sniffing the air every few minutes.

So this morning, the rolls are baking, the children are reading, and Sue is still asleep. The only drawback is that she is the only one who knows where all the stocking-stuffers are, and she was too tired out last night to tell me where she’d stashed them. Given her frequent insomnia, plus the fact that she takes the (rest of) Christmas much more seriously than I do, thus working her fingers to the bone, I’m just going to let her sleep in while I drink all the coffee, make a second pot and start on that, and maybe even let her go past when the rolls are done.

Our third and final tradition is that we have birthday cake at Christmas dinner. Not in honor of an ancient birthday, but a more recent one. My older daughter was born at 6:55 PM on December 25, 1996. She’s seventeen today. And we are careful to save the second half of the day for her, as well as making sure there are some packages under the tree with birthday paper.

There are a few more holiday traditions that I’ve done irregularly. One that is from when Dad lived in North Carolina in the late ’70s to mid-80’s were playing Santa for the poor. His church would take collections of toys, food, and cash through December, and they’d get names and ages of a few dozen needy families. The cash would be used to buy perishable groceries or special-request gifts, and we’d get together to sort out the gifts (girl, 12; boy, 9; boy, 7, mom, size 8 shoes), and load up the car with bags of groceries and presents. As a surly teen, I resented having to (a) do the chore, and (b) confront the uncomfortable reality of small-town Southern poverty. Until I saw how needy and how appreciative these families were. The other one, which was a lot of fun, was that the city would have a huge collection of Christmas trees on New Years Eve, and burn them in a massive bonfire in some public park at dusk. That was very clever of the city: it solved the disposal problems, gave people a reasonable date to take down their trees, it got the potential fire hazard out of everyone’s houses, it provided a community gathering, and it gave the Fire Department something to do.

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And now, we all sink back, over-caffeinated, over-sugared, and read our pile of new books. Happy holidays, whatever they are and whatever your traditions.


Correction: the Christmas Book Fairy (or Santa doing it, when the population was smaller and he had more time) dates back at least to the 1940s and Grandmother Blackburn, according to family lore.

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